By Allison Chinchar, CNN Meteorologist
March in the Midwest usually brings to mind snow, ice, and bitter cold temperatures, but this weekend, thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures, some states may see both snow and tornadoes.
“It is rare to get severe weather that far north this early in the year, but it is not unprecedented,” said Bill Bunting, Chief of Forecast Operations at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC). “It certainly doesn’t happen every year.”
Typically in March, severe weather is focused over the Gulf Coast states from Texas to Florida. For example, Texas averages 11 tornadoes in the month of March, but Iowa typically only sees two.
The interesting setup is all thanks to a cold front producing winter weather in the Northern Plains. As the front dives south into the Mississippi River Valley, it will encounter temperatures 20 to 30 degrees above normal.
“Isolated severe storms are possible over Iowa and small portions of surrounding states on Saturday,” the SPC said Thursday morning.
While the setup Saturday will be favorable for supercells producing all facets of severe such as damaging winds, hail, and tornadoes, the SPC also cautioned ideal ingredients may only end up across a narrow region, limiting widespread severe impacts from the storms. Whatever storms do develop, however, will likely move rapidly.
“The storms will be moving very quickly,” said Brad Small, meteorologist at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Des Moines. “People should be aware of the potential for damaging winds and even the possibility of a tornado.”
While temperatures will be well above normal ahead of the front, quite the opposite will be behind the front.
Winter isn’t over yet
From Kansas City up to Milwaukee and east to Knoxville, temperatures will be 20 to 30 degrees above normal Saturday. Once the front moves through, those temperatures will drop sharply.
For example, Chicago will go from a high temperature Saturday in the mid-60s all the way down to highs in the mid-30s Monday with a chance of snow showers.
St. Louis will see a similar drop, going from the mid-70s for a high Saturday all the way down to highs in the mid-40s Monday.
For many Midwestern cities, it will mark the second time in one week seeing big drops in temperatures. St. Louis went from a record high on Wednesday to a forecast high only in the mid-50s Thursday. Des Moines went from a high of 71 Wednesday to a high of just barely above 40 degrees.
Because the cold air will already be in place across the Upper Midwest when the cold front arrives, it means winter precipitation including snow, sleet, and freezing rain will be the main hazards.
“Confidence remains high for a short period of freezing rain, mixed with sleet, rain or snow, will fall across mainly the eastern third of [the greater Minneapolis area],” said the NWS office in Minneapolis. “Saturday afternoon through Saturday night has the best possibility of accumulating snow across western Minnesota, with mainly rain across the east and southeast before transitioning to snow late.”
It will be a relatively fast-moving system, so it will not have a lot of time to dump a significant amount of snow. Most areas of Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, northern Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan will pick up 2-4 inches, with isolated spots of up to 6 inches.
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CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers contributed to this story